In a cold desert climate where summers have pleasant days and cool nights, and winters are chilly to biting cold, we find Uspallata, a humble little crossroads town on the way to the Chilean border. A perfect base to do some exploring in the area and at the same time a town with back country character is our first and correct impression as we step off the bus after a two and a half hours ride from Mendoza.
A very friendly lady at the information point shows us the cheapest overnighting possibilities and camping grounds. We end up at Cabañas Ranquil Luncay and made the right choise. A fine mix of bungalows, camping sites, football field, grills for client use and the beautiful surroundings make our heartbeat going faster. We set up our tent and go for a walk in the town that has maximum ten streets of which all of them have view on the mighty Andes. The people are openhearted and warmly welcoming us in every shop. They make time to explain, to ask and have time to be interested in the person they have in front of them. A being-home feeling starts to get under our skin and just some streets later, when a nice man invites us tasting different Argentinean wines outside his small grocery shop around an old wine barrel, our body get stuffed with both good Uspallata vibrations and the finest wines of the area.
We buy a wine, half a chicken and vegetables to honour the grill just outside the tent. As we come back at the campground a young Argentinean couple has put their tent next to ours and will make fire up the grill next to us. We get in contact, have a nice chat and together we get to the conclusion that we will travel the same direction towards the border. They invite us in their car and together early in the morning, with our clothes still smelling at the wood-fire-grill, we leave this small town behind us to adventure us in some of the most dramatic scenery in the region: the backdrop of the highest peak out in the Andes. First stop is Puente Del Inca, where the sedimentation of thermal springs forming a big bridge over the Vacas River is something interesting to see but where the sedimentation on everyday items as shoes, cans, backpacks and bottles are the real mouth opener here.
The story is that if you would leave any object a month in these waters they would get petrified by the minerals in the water. Thousands of different objects covered by a yellow ocher stone layer are for sale and each one of them more incredulous. After that we make a stop at Cerro Aconcagua where we make a beautiful walk along minor lakes reflecting the white sharp shaped notoriety of the Andes to a viewpoint on mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain on the American continent. It is where we finally get rewarded, after many hikes in the barren high Andes, by the flight of two condors as they glide through the sky stretching their wings till a width of 3,2m. Another dream that came true and the line “eyewitness the free flight of a wild condor” get crossed on my ‘100 things to see in nature before I die’-list.
Another few kilometers later we leave the main road and start to ascent a steep dust road trail up into the mountains. The old car that brought us so far is climbing on its last effort to get till the Cristo Redentor de los Andes statue at 4000MASL on the very border of Argentina and Chile. After hugging goodbye, the two youngsters with car leave us in front of the Cristo redentor tunnel which is the border with Chile.
It takes us a while but finally we succeed to hitch-hike a car that will drive us totally till Santiago de Chile, the capital of the sixteenth country of our journey.
- At Cabañas Ranquil Luncay we find a camping ground just 300m out of the center. Each tent has its BBQ and stunning view on the Andes as we unzip the tent door. We paid 100 for the night
- Cerro Tunduqueral with remarkable petroglyphs at just 7,8km
- Bosque de Darwin at Paramillos de Uspallata at 24km with its more than 50 petrified araucarias from the Tertiary age.
- At some streets from the towncenter you find the Bódevas de barro from the late XVIII
- Nearby (63km) we find Los Penitentes where sporters in summer will find lots of posibilities for hiking on high altitiude and in winter a cheap ski and snowboard destination.
- Cerro Aconcagua, a playground for the skilled andinists and alpinists but a true 7000MASL defiance for new and not experienced adventurer
- Thermal waters and stalactites are brought to another dimensión at Puente del Inca on a 50min drive from Uspallata
- Find yourself gasping for breath at one of the highest borders of the world while admiring the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer of the Andes at 4000MASL.